As the financial independence and early retirement movement (or FIRE movement, for short) has gained popularity, some myths and misconceptions have sprung up about what it entails. Too many people make assumptions about what the FIRE movement is and what it's made of.
A lot of folks think the FIRE movement is cult-ish. Some think that financial independence and early retirement are only for rich white people. (Or, more specifically, for white men in the tech industry.) Others say that early retirement is only possible with a high income. Or you can only do this if you're so frugal it hurts. And, of course, there are folks like Suze Orman who "hate hate hate" the FIRE movement because they believe you need millions in order to retire — early or otherwise.
I'll be honest. Each objection and complaint about financial independence contains a grain of truth. But each objection and complaint misses the point in some important ways.
Today, let's look at some of these myths and misconceptions about financial independence and early retirement, and explore why these myths and misconceptions are myths and misconceptions.
Every year at about this time, I start getting questions by email and social media — and even in Real Life: "Do you have any personal-finance or money-related gift ideas?"
I know how tempting it can be to choose gifts that encourage smart financial choices. You look at the poor decisions your brother or sister have made, and you feel like you could help. If only they would read this one book that helped you so much!
I get it. I've felt the same way. After all, my financial turnaround is a direct result of reading two books that were gifted to me by friends: Your Money or Your Life and Dave Ramsey's The Total Money Makeover.
That said, money gifts like these can be dangerous. They have the very real potential to create hard feelings and resentment rather than achieve the goal you're after. Any time you offer unsolicited advice — especially in the form of a gift — you run the risk of making the recipient more resistant.
Now, having said that, there are times and situations where gifts with a financial theme make sense.
- Do you have a niece who's about to leave home and forge out on a life of her own? A money manual might indeed be a welcome gift.
- Are there kids in your life whose parents don't have personal finance figured out? A money-based board game could indeed impart lessons to the entire family.
- Has your father been talking lately about needing to take retirement seriously? Well, he probably could profit from a meeting with a financial advisor.
After fifteen years of thinking about this subject, I've come up with a short list of financial gift ideas that might help to foster smart money moves without creating resentment. Let's take a quick look at some potential personal-finance gifts that sometimes make sense — if the recipient is ready to hear the message.
Note that I've deliberately tried to steer clear of junk. There are tons of money-themed gifts out there that serve absolutely no purpose: money soap, money placemats, money t-shirts. These are all basically rubbish. The money gift ideas I've listed here are meant to be practical, to foster future wealth. They're not novelties.
Last week, my colleague Patrick from Cash Money Life pinged me on Facebook. "Hey, J.D. What are some of the other personal-finance conferences out there?" he asked. Patrick and I brainstormed a list of money events, and I realized that this might be useful for GRS readers.
(Well, this list might be useful eventually. Right now, during COVID, this list isn't useful to anyone haha.)
Here's a quick list of the various personal-finance events, conferences, and retreats that I'm aware of. If you know of others that should be on this list, please drop me a line. I'm happy to add them.
It's been quiet around here for the past few months. Generally when things go dormant at Get Rich Slowly, that's not a good sign. It usually means that I've sunk into the depths of depression, the pit of despair.
I'm pleased to report that in this case, that's not the issue. In this case, the opposite has happened. Lately, life is grand. During the past three months, I've been diligently working to eliminate the net negatives from my life while also emphasizing those things that are essential. To that end, I've:
- Recorded, edited, and published nearly 50 YouTube videos. These are rough, and I know it, but I'm learning from them — and having fun.
- Given up alcohol. And recently, I've given up pot. I'm experimenting with complete sobriety for a while.
- Lost nearly twenty pounds through simple, sensible eating (and calorie counting). This morning, I weighed in at 186.8, down 17.4 pounds since I started on July 28th.
- Cleaned and organized nearly every space in my life, "editing" my belongings in an attempt to cut back to the essentials.
- Worked hard in the yard. I've built a fence with one neighbor and am starting another fence with a second neighbor. Plus, I've continued our landscaping projects.
- Begun reading again for pleasure. Yay!
- And much, much more.
I've had a busy three months. And while, yes, I've had a few bouts of depression, they've been minor and brief. Mostly, I've been happy and productive.
Not much of that productivity has been directed at this website, and I'm okay with that. I know there's plenty of personal finance inside me ready to be shared in due time.
Meanwhile, it's been rewarding to devote so much time to essentials, to the core concerns of my life.
My world is on fire.
As you may have heard, much of Oregon is burning right now. Thanks to a "once in a lifetime" combination of weather and climate variables -- a long, dry summer leading to high temps and low humidity, then a freak windstorm from the east -- much of the state turned to tinder earlier this week. And then the tinder ignited.
At this very moment, our neighborhood is cloaked in smoke.
When Kim and I go to bed each night, we spend time casually browsing Reddit on our iPads. It's fun. Mostly.
She and I enjoy sharing funny animal videos with each other (from subreddits like /r/animalsbeinggenisuses, /r/happycowgifs, and /r/petthedamndog). Kim dives deep into /r/mapporn and /r/documentaries. I read about comics and computer games and financial independence.
But here's the thing. After browsing Reddit for thirty minutes or an hour, I'm left feeling unsatisfied. In fact, I'm often in a bad mood. After browsing Reddit, I have a negative attitude. My view of the world has deteriorated. Why? Because for all the fun and interesting things on Reddit, it's also filled with a bunch of crap.
You see, I also subscribe to /r/idiotsincars and /r/publicfreakout and /r/choosingbeggars — and dozens more like these. These subreddits highlight the worst in human behavior. And while viewing one or two posts from forums like these can be entertaining and/or interesting, consuming mass quantities of this stuff leaves me feeling dirty. (Plus, there's the Reddit comments which tend to be juvenile, dogmatic, and myopic. Reddit comments are so bad that Kim refuses to read them.)
It's taken a while, but I've come to believe that Reddit -- or the way that I use Reddit, anyhow -- is a net negative in my life. It causes more harm than good.
I've been thinking about his concept a lot lately. Behind the scenes, I've been making many small, subtle changes to my environment and daily routine. My aim is to decrease my depression and anxiety by removing people, things, and experiences that are net negatives and replacing them with people, things, and experiences that are net positives.
I used to be a collector. I collected trading cards. I collected comic books. I collected pins and stickers and mementos of all sorts. I had boxes of things I'd collected but which essentially served no purpose.
I can't say I've shaken the urge to collect entirely, but I have a much better handle on it than I used to. A few years ago, I sold my comic collection and stopped obsessing over them. Today, I collect three things: patches from the countries I visit, pins from national parks, and -- especially -- old books about money.
Collecting old money books is fun. For one, it ties to my work. Plus, there's not a huge demand for money manuals, so there's not a lot of competition to buy them. (Exception: As much as I'd love a copy of Ben Franklin's The Way to Wealth, so would a lot of other people. That one is out of my reach.)
One big bonus from collecting old money books is actually reading these books. They're fascinating. And it's interesting to trace the development of certain ideas in the world of personal finance.
For instance, there's this persistent myth of "lost economic virtue". That is, a lot of people today want to argue that people were better at managing their money in the past. They weren't. Debt (and poor money skills) has been a persistent problem since well before the United States was founded. It's not like we, as a society, once had smart money skills and lost them. The way people manage money today is the way they've always managed money.
- In 1992, Joe Dominguez and Vicki Robin published Your Money or Your Life, and that marks the "discovery" of FIRE.
- In the late 2000s, Jacob from Early Retirement Extreme picked up the FIRE banner, then handed it off to Mr. Money Mustache a few years later.
- Today that banner is being carried by newcomers like Choose FI and the /r/financialindependence subreddit.
When you read old money books, however, you soon realize that FIRE isn't new. These ideas have been kicking around for a while. Sure, the past decade has seen the systemization and codification of the concepts, but people have been preaching the importance of financial independence for about 150 years. Maybe longer.
Today, using my collection of old money books, let's take a look at where the notion of financial independence originated.
Update! I've had a couple of people email to ask if I plan to host these videos here on the blog. The short answer is "no". The long answer is "maybe eventually". But I realized that I could make it easy on folks by embedding the Morning Musings playlist at the top of this article. So, here it is. In theory, this should get updated whenever I post a new video. This is an embedded playlist, and the most recent video should appear at the top. (In theory.)
For years now, I've wanted to start a Get Rich Slowly channel on YouTube.
Well, I guess that's only partially correct. I have a GRS channel on YouTube; it's just not very active. So, I guess what I mean to say is that I want to have an active GRS channel on YouTube.
There are lots of barriers, though, all of which are purely mental. I worry about how I look. I worry about how I sound. I worry about production quality. I worry about the amount of time this will all take. Basically, I'm paralyzed by the need to be perfect.
Human beings are interesting creatures. I'm fascinated by them. That's probably the reason I was a psychology major in college. It's certainly the reason that I believe (strongly) that everybody is talented, original, and has something important to say. (That bit of philosophy is something I picked up from Brenda Ueland's marvelous book, If You Want to Write.)
People are awesome — even if we're each flawed in our own way.
One thing I've noticed over the past few years is the dichotomy between knowing something and doing something. It's one thing to understand a concept or fact intellectually; it's a completely different thing to experience a fact or concept, or to put it into practice.
Three weeks ago, I drove from Portland to Colorado Springs to participate in Camp FI, a weekend retreat for people interested in financial independence and early retirement.
Under normal circumstances, I wouldn't drive this distance. It's a 1300-mile trip that takes at least twenty hours to cover. Or, if you're me, it's a 1400-mile trip that takes 23 hours of driving spread over two days.
But, in case you haven't noticed, we're in the middle of a global pandemic, and although I'm not nearly as cautious as many of my friends, I don't relish the idea of confining myself to close quarters with dozens of strangers for hours on end in an airplane. Besides, I like to drive. And I love the beauty of the American west. And I needed some time alone to think deep thoughts — and to listen to the Hamilton soundtrack over and over and over again.
Around noon on Day Two, as I exited I-80 in south-central Wyoming, I was listening to Hamilton for the fourth time in 24 hours when I was smacked in the brain by a lyric I hadn't heard before. I pulled off the side of the road to think about it -- and to make some notes.